Letters from Italy

Letter “A” :: “Alfresco” or “Al fresco”? Stai fresco!


In these days temperatures range from 28 to 36 degrees Celsius (82 to 96 Fahrenheit) and everybody is looking for some “fresco”, i.e. some cool air/location. No doubt that having lunch or dinner “alfresco” [al-fres-koh] brings some relief from this sultry weather, however, the right way to say it in Italian is “pranzare/cenare all’aperto” or “fuori”.

AlFresco gm DSC_2483_spuma ©GiuseppeMarone

Bibita “fresca” – Cool drink… | photo: ©GiuseppeMarone

“Al fresco” (two words) may convey another meaning, it is an ironic way to say that you’re behind bars. If you take into consideration that jail caterers are not so esteemed, dining “al fresco” sounds a little awkward to Italian ears.

“Fresco” is a tricky word for a learner of Italian. Giotto, Michelangelo and all our masters of painting this time are not involved. “Fresco” in Italian is “affresco” and as an adjective it is used in many and somewhat contradictory ways.

Imagine you’re sunbathing at your favourite “stabilimento balneare” (beachfront resort), it’s 11 a.m. and suddenly on the PA system you hear this: “Pizze calde fresche, pizze calde fresche!”

Are pizzas hot or cool? They’ve just come out of the oven – freshly baked but they’re as hot as volcano lava, that’s the reason for the oxymoron “hot fresh pizzas”. And even though the thermometer says 30 degrees, a few things are more enjoyable than a lip-scorching pizza under the sun umbrella. One of them is a rich aperitivo – alfresco on the lungomare when the temperature gets cooler (più fresca).

Things get worse – for learners of Italian – when “fresco” is used in the idiom “stai fresco”. As for idioms in every language, it should not be taken literally, and its translation may be “forget about it” or “fat chance”.

Is the word “fresco” convoluted enough?

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